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"No, Miss Vega. Consider the Black Box theory!"
September 24, 2008 5:04 AM   Subscribe

"So, that’s my long and winding history of a little postcard from the Upper West Side of Manhattan!" Suzanne Vega writes about writing the hit song Tom's Diner, coping with its numerous remixes, and its part in the birth of the MP3 music compression format.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (34 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
I enjoyed this in a beloved-song-from-my-youth kind of way, and also in a I-remember-when-this-guy-had-a-hundred-and-seven-mp3s-and-we-all-thought-that-was-pretty-hardcore kind of way, and definitely in a I'm-old-but-Suzanne-Vega-is-older sort of manner. I wasn't aware of the Measure for Measure-blog either, so thanks! Nice post.
posted by anjarchista at 5:38 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Thanks for posting that! What a great person.
posted by Shepherd at 6:01 AM on September 24, 2008


For years, I had no idea that the DNA remix of "Tom's Diner" was even a remix. Didn't know "Luka" existed. Turns out Suzanne Vega is pretty cool; all the Measure for Measure blogs are super-neat.

Also, the first MP3 I ever downloaded was, oddly, "Enter Sandman," because it was literally the only song I could find. I couldn't get it to play on my 486 DX/33 without downsampling to 22KHz and playing it in mono. I couldn't figure out what the big deal was about MP3s.
posted by uncleozzy at 6:03 AM on September 24, 2008


Just worth a mention -- Tom's Diner is still there, and it still has food that will make you choke if you try to swallow it.
posted by fourcheesemac at 6:15 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Nice find, BP.
posted by allkindsoftime at 6:17 AM on September 24, 2008


"Didn't know "Luka" existed.

Sure. You know the chick: Lives on the second floor? Makes a lot of noise at night? Seems kind of crazy?
posted by Jofus at 6:19 AM on September 24, 2008 [3 favorites]


Great link. I still think the "I Dream Of Jeannie" mashup is the best cover of this song.
posted by briank at 6:25 AM on September 24, 2008


1. Suzanne Vega at The Bottom Line (in 2002) was one of the best concerts I've ever seen. I've never fallen for so many songs in the one single night.

2. The first MP3 I ever downloaded was "Lakini's Juice" by Live. From there, it was all downhill into a life of ratio-based FTP sites and massive stashes of poorly tagged partial albums all saved "for posterity" on CD-Rs that have since deteriorated.
posted by grabbingsand at 6:36 AM on September 24, 2008


The fun thing about Tom's Diner (maybe any a capella music, I don't know) is that toddlers are FASCINATED by it. I play a lot of music around my kids and they barely notice most of it, but Tom's Diner always caught their attention.

Also, Measure for Measure was the subject of a previous MeFi post.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 6:50 AM on September 24, 2008


I heard her do this song about a year back in a dark little basement under Delmar, to a crowd of less than two hundred people. The heads still whirled around. Her eyes were closed and I was wondering what she was thinking as she sang it for the thousandth time. She looked transfixed, but I suppose being a live performer is as much about acting as it is musicianship.

It still put chills up my spine as it first did so very long ago.
posted by adipocere at 6:50 AM on September 24, 2008


Can we do a Suzanne Vega love fest? Oh can we?

More Vega-y goodness:

Calypso

This has some great audience interaction. Adipocere is right, she's a great showman.

Blood Makes Noise

Marlane On the Wall

The Queen And The Soldier


According to my ESL-teacher friend, "Tom's Diner" is excellent for teaching because every word is clear, distinct, and spoken slowly.

Yay!
posted by The Whelk at 7:10 AM on September 24, 2008


That article is great. "I actually once saw Jerry Seinfeld right near there!"
posted by infinitewindow at 7:13 AM on September 24, 2008


she seems like a nice person, good for her
posted by matteo at 7:23 AM on September 24, 2008


I had been free of that annoying earworm for six months.
Until now.
posted by rocket88 at 8:03 AM on September 24, 2008


My biggest memory of Ms. Vega was watching the Grammy Awards. Whitney Houston had just finished a performance that was all glitz and spectacle. Dancers, flashing lights... BIG production very much in line with an awards show. Ms. Vega followed with an unaccompanied version of Luka that was just so haunting, in such sharp contrast to everything that preceeded it.

And it absolutely rocked!
posted by quintessencesluglord at 8:06 AM on September 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


Wow, what a great article! She really does seem like a nice person.
posted by starscream at 8:12 AM on September 24, 2008


I heard that some NASA office is located in that building where Tom's is. Also, Tom's has the best milk shakes in Morningside Heights, although not much else is that good.
posted by ofthestrait at 8:18 AM on September 24, 2008


This is great. I'm totally inspired to go load up my iPod with Vega and re-listen to all the songs from the tapes I wore out long ago. I have a long drive today and this will be perfect.
posted by iamkimiam at 8:30 AM on September 24, 2008


I was listening to her before half of you were born. (The half who are on my lawn, I might add. Jarts, anyone?) She says somewhere in there that she's a two-hit wonder, but I remember at least four radio hits (Marlene on the Wall, Luka, Tom's Diner, Book of Dreams).
posted by pracowity at 8:54 AM on September 24, 2008


What an interesting blog post. This "Tom's Album," I must have it.
posted by owtytrof at 9:04 AM on September 24, 2008


"Solitude Standing" was the first cassette my dad and I were able to agree on for in-the-car listening. I don't know if that was a testament to his crush on Vega or mine. But I still have it.

The first MP3 I ever downloaded was "Lakini's Juice" by Live.

Now that I thought back about it, the first MP3 I ever downloaded was "(Nibble On My Dick) Like A Rat Does Cheese" by 2 Live Crew. That, I don't have anymore.
posted by Marisa Stole the Precious Thing at 9:15 AM on September 24, 2008


Whelk, thanks for posting the Calypso link. I hadn't seen that performance before. I've always loved that song, especially when just drifting off to sleep.

About 15 years ago, I got the running order from a Suzanne Vega show. A few months later, she was doing a signing tour for a book, maybe "Bullet in Flight." I took my running order along and asked her to sign it "with a clean heart and my song in the wind," which she did. I didn't go to the gig that night, as I couldn't afford it.

A few days later, a friend of mine came round to my flat and saw the running order. He said '"oh, it was you!" I looked puzzled, and he said that at the gig, Suzanne had told the story of being asked to sign a running order that day "with a clean heart and my song in the wind" and thinking that it was a beautiful phrase for a song. Then of course, 30 seconds later she realises it is a phrase from a song, one that she'd written.

I never went to the gig, so I never got my "Spartacus" moment. But I still have the running order hanging in my bedroom.
posted by Jakey at 9:23 AM on September 24, 2008


I like her version of "Tom's Diner" more than DNA's remix.

Her post about "Luka" is good, too.

She really does seem like a nice person

A buddy of mine moved to New York in the early '80s and had a job interview with her. He said she was really nice (he didn't get the job, but he got a crush on her).
posted by kirkaracha at 9:26 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


(Nibble On My Dick) Like A Rat Does Cheese

I'm unfamiliar with the song, but isn't that supposed to hurt like hell?
posted by matteo at 11:04 AM on September 24, 2008


(Nibble On My Dick) Like A Rat Does Cheese

I'm unfamiliar with the song, but isn't that supposed to hurt like hell?

No, Suzanne's a capella version of it goes over quite smoothly.
posted by stupidsexyFlanders at 11:40 AM on September 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


(So the new TimesPeople recommending feature doesn't work on blog posts?)
posted by muckster at 11:41 AM on September 24, 2008


Great post!

I think it's a shame that Suzanne Vega is often considered - even in her own mind at times - a "two hit wonder" when she's knocked out such an arsenal of cracking good tunes.
posted by panboi at 1:55 PM on September 24, 2008


Wow. What an incredible article. Thank you.
posted by dirtynumbangelboy at 2:33 PM on September 24, 2008


Classy writing by a classy lady. Excellent post, thank you!
posted by Lynsey at 2:36 PM on September 24, 2008


Suzanne Vega owes me an ankle.

In '87, a friend and I had tickets to see her perform in Santa Barbara, California. She cancelled the show, reportedly to stay in L.A. and make a video. Had she not cancelled, I would have been at the show rather than playing Frisbee, which led to the above-mentioned ankle injury--complete with breaking it in three places; tearing the tendon from the bone; having a full-leg cast for a couple weeks, having surgery with a screw put in (still there!) to put everything back together, having a below-the-knee cast for several weeks and several weeks of physical therapy.

More than 21 years later, the scar remains formidable, but there's virtually no pain, lack of mobility.

That said, memories of seeing her in London for the '86 Prince's Trust concert are still good ones.
posted by ambient2 at 11:22 PM on September 24, 2008


For years, I had no idea that the DNA remix of "Tom's Diner" was even a remix.

Yeah? More news for the kids on my lawn:

Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" is an almost note-for-note rip-off of Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London.

Gym Class Heroes' "Cupid's Chokehold / Breakfast in America" at least gives a passing nod to the original... by Supertramp.

I fucking can't stand these rip-off motherfuckers, unoriginal samplers, musical marauders. Fuck them up their no-talent asses. Uh... Uh... Yeeeah.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:30 PM on September 24, 2008


Is it OK to admit that I bought “Days of Open Hand.” the day it was released and played the hell out of it? The original Tom's Diner had me suddenly addicted to her voice and that was my fresh fix.
posted by dabitch at 1:07 AM on September 25, 2008


Luka was used in one of my ESL classes. It remains one of my most memorable days of high school.

I like this post.
posted by dirty lies at 5:46 AM on September 25, 2008


Civil_Disobedient: Yeah? More news for the kids on my lawn:

Kid Rock's "All Summer Long" is an almost note-for-note rip-off of Warren Zevon's Werewolves of London.


To the lawn-owner, from a kid: "All Summer Long" may sample the 1977 "Werewolves of London" for additional melody, but the song you're looking for for the 'rip-off' came out three years before, in 1974. It's even referenced in the lyrics.

If you have to say Kid Rock ripped off Warren Zevon, I have to say Zevon ripped off Lynyrd Skynyrd.

Note: I'm a fan of Mr. Zevon, Messrs. Skynyrd, and Mr. Rock (when he's not punk); I just take offense to people who think homages are ripoffs. Now, this is a ripoff.
posted by flatluigi at 4:45 PM on September 25, 2008


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